I try and avoid focusing on two producers in one offer, but to illustrate how dynamic and exciting Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is right now I thought today a perfect opportunity to break the habit. Saumur and Anjou are appellations with history as rich as any, but it's what's transpired somewhat recently that's warranted their relative gain in recognition.
Oregon-born, Brendan Stater-West followed his passion for wine all the way to Paris where he began working in a wine shop. He tasted a bottle from the renowned, Romain Guiberteau and knew he wanted to learn and work alongside the Saumur producer. A marriage to a lovely French woman made the move from bustling Paris to the gentle hills of Saumur a seamless one, and Romain Guiberteau took Brendan under his wing. Seeing Brendan's skill and work ethic, Romain leased him one hectare of vines situated next to his famous Clos du Guichaux lieu dit.
Brendan's hectare, named Les Chapaudaises, is located in the small village of Bizay, within a half-kilometer of Saumur's cherished hill of Brézé. The same sandy tuffeau limestone appears here and is the foundation of the fine-grained and elegant contours that's rightfully associated with Saumur's top sites.
Like Romain, Brendan's wines are based upon driving minerality, crisp citrus and orchard fruit notes, and are bone dry. Both winemakers block malolactic fermentation, a key in retaining the more taut and racy qualities of Chenin Blanc. Although a debut release for Les Chapaudaises, the composure and harmony of the wine points to years of familiarity with Bizay and Saumur. The wines of Guiberteau are among the great Chenin Blancs of France, and Brendan's cuvée belongs at the same table.
If Saumur and Brendan's wine can best be described as regal and disciplined, then Anjou and Patrick Baudouin are in fact much further apart in style than their close proximity would suggest.
Anjou's dry wines do not receive the same historical (and current) praise of their neighbors to the east. Nestled between the Loire and Layon river, the high humidity here is ideal for making sweet wines from botrytized grapes. Patrick's great work, however, is in the dry style and his La Fresnaye cuvée is the wine that highlights Anjou's potential.
Patrick's importer has used a JRR Tolkien book to convey the sense of the man and the wines from this 13.5-hectare estate. Without having met Patrick I can attest that the actual wine in the glass conjures magic, wizardry, and maybe just a touch of fairy dust.It's obvious from the first aromas to the texture of the first sip, this is simply unlike any Chenin Blanc you will ever taste.
La Fresnaye is a single hectare parcel planted on an amalgamation of ancient soils containing predominately gravel and limestone. It's made in the dry style, but carries the honeyed and exotic spices that are mesmerizing put in this unusually higher acid form. In the past these notes have usually come with an overt bruised apple quality that tends to turn me off in Chenin. But here, the real magic is the fresh and lively nature of the orchard fruit that's still loaded with these savory elements. It's a high-wire act on a mystical stage.
Loire Valley Chenin Blanc may hold the single greatest potential within its diversity of styles. These examples from Saumur and Anjou showcase wildly different sides of the coin. They will reward those who place them in deep pockets of the cellar, but they are unquestionably delicious in their generosity today.
There's no place I've visited that carries the same undercurrent of excitement like Anjou. The Loire Valley region has long been associated with sweet wines, but today there's a group of winemakers who are turning that playbook upside down. They focus on dry wines, using meticulous organic viticulture and minimal sulphur as the foundation for change in this region of complicated identity.
Of this band of vignerons, Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie of Château de Bonnezeaux is the brand new arrival to the US that I've been waiting to write about. Her first and only release from a two-hectare parcel of old Chenin Blanc vines epitomizes the magic capable in Anjou.
Today I'm very happy to offer the resurrection of the Château de Bonnezeaux, the 2016 La Montagne Cuvée Salve Regina at $45 per bottle, and down to $42.25 on 4-Packs. We are one of only two listings in the entire US for this inaugural release.
At first pour, Cuvée Salve Regina's very pale yellow hue initially got me engaged. It's often from this area I'll find more darker peach and apricot notes that totally miss the mark with their heavier handed Chenin expression. It's the fresh white pear, honeysuckle, and meyer lemon all woven together here with a mineral spring finish that was just irresistible. The concentration of bright acidity and crushed rock notes that linger on the palate stands in stark contrast to anything else I've come across. And the distinctive cardamom note on the nose and the palate only adds to the intrigue here.
Château de Bonnezeaux's first release in over thirty years comes from two parcels of Chenin Blanc vines blended together: a 70-yr-old vineyard in Bonnezeaux and a 40-yr-old vineyard in the Coteaux du Layon. Both appellations have long stood as where sweet Chenin Blanc reaches its apogee, but the archaic French laws have kept vignerons from pushing the envelope to see what else was capable here. Today, dry wines from these two regions are often required to be labeled with the humble Vin de France appellation you see pictured below.
The names Mark Angeli, Stephane Bernaudeau, and Richard Leroy should be addressed. This trio of mentors has been a pivotal force in grooming the new generation in Anjou. It was working under these producers that Guyonne found her voice for Château de Bonnezeaux, and in her wine the spirit of these three names is obvious. Minimal sulphur is a common thread for all, and the resulting wilder elements of spices and aromas is intrinsically tied to each of the domaine's spellbinding wines.
I thought it would be fun to also put together a special mixed 6-Pack of my favorite Anjou natural wine producers. The six have worked together, informing and challenging each other to show a side of Chenin Blanc that has never been displayed here before. These wines are each produced in minuscule quantities, and many are the only listings in the US today.
To order please reply directly to this email.
2016 Château de Bonnezeaux La Montagne Cuvée Salve Regina
$45 per bottle.
Special E-mail 4-Pack Pricing: $169 ($42.25/bottle)
*Anjou Whisper 6-Pack Pricing: $368 (Regularly $396)
2014 Ferme de la Sansonniere (Mark Angeli) Anjou Les Fouchardes (Monopole)
2014 Stephane Bernaudeau Les Onglés VDF
2016 Château de Bonnezeaux La Montagne Cuvée Salve Regina
2016 Benoit Courault Anjou Gilbourg
2014 Vins Hodgson (Mai et Kenji) Les Aussigouins VDF
2014 Richard Leroy Anjou Rouliers
The diversity within the range of styles of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is something that fascinates us to no end. On a recent trip we visited two particular producers who accentuate this truth in show stopping fashion. Today we focus on two very different sides to the Chenin Blanc coin.
It is only 25 miles that separate Saumur from Anjou, but the styles of Chenin Blanc seem worlds apart. Terroir plays a large role, but we also found that winemaking philosophy and technique is a pivotal element in what distinguishing these stunning wines.
Arnaud Lambert has resurrected the Chateau de Brézé of Saumur, a domaine praised for their Chenin Blanc wines as far back as the 15th century where they were served at royal courts throughout Europe. Regularly the Chateau would exchange their wines with those of the revered Château d'Yquem of Bordeaux. And today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As times passed and industrialism gave way to quick fixes in the vineyards (herbicides, pesticides) to ensure high yields and minimize the need for hand work the Chateau de Brézé lost something. Recruited in 2009, Lambert has spent the last seven years finding the magic by going back to the roots. Lambert immediately converted to organic farming, drastically reduced yields, and has started to incorporate biodynamic principals.
Saumur's high concentration of tuffeau limestone, and its active calcium content, has long delivered wines of striking purity and elegance. Winemaking styles here lead most producers to block malolactic fermentation, which help Chenin Blanc preserve it's bright, linear, and more crystalline characteristics. The top whites here see some new French oak, but the flavor is nearly imperceptible, as fruit from these sites absorbs any wood quality that may otherwise stand out. While most wines in the appellation showcase fresh orchard fruit notes, those of Chateau Brézé have a deep layered texture to them with an impressive array of tertiary qualities. The poached pear and quince flavors are met with brown spices, orange zest, and chalky minerality.
Lambert would be the first to tell you that it was not an overnight change that has made these wines what they are today. It was a few years of intense vineyard management that has finally brought quality up to such a high level. 2012 marked a defining moment for the domaine, as their top two wines offered today resemble the glory of what once graced the tables of kings and queens throughout the continent.
2012 Chateau de Brézé Saumur Clos de la Rue $53.95
The top wine of the domaine. From the warmest vineyard on the hill of Brézé, and protected from the gusts of wind that regularly zip throughout vine rows. Sandy limestone at the top of the hill, with clay underneath gives richness, power, and deep texture.
If Chateau de Brézé is a reflection of the grand achievements of centuries past in the Loire, then Kenji and Mai Hodgson serve as stark reminders of what thrilling heights await us as we look toward the future. The couple, originally from British Columbia, have an adventurous spirit that embodies what's so exciting about today's Loire Valley.
They produce wines under the Vin de France (VDF) designation which allow them to essentially ignore the archaic requirements set by local appellation laws, like those of Anjou. While the VDF designation was once commonly thought of as the lowest generic label, today it is used by hundreds who find its flexibility a blessing that allows them to craft the wines of their dreams. And believe me, with the 2014 Les Aussigouins Kenji and Mai landed on cloud nine.
In Vancouver it proved nearly impossible for the Japanese-Canadians to rely on organically farmed sources of grapes, and land was too expensive to buy outright. They took a giant leap and moved to the Loire without a grasp of French, but what they lacked in language they made up for in sheer determination. After four years they finally made their mark thanks in large part to the generosity and mentorship of iconic producers in the region like Richard Leroy and Mark Angeli.
2014 Vins Hodgson Les Aussignouins VDF $43.95
Les Aussignouins is sourced from vines in the famed Montbenault vineyard that Richard Leroy has drawn a spotlight to over the last few years. While Leroy's wines are doled out in 6 bottle allocations per year (if you're lucky!), Hodgson's version just landed this month in the US for the first time ever, and while quantities are small, we took a rather large slice.
Specifically, the Montbenault vineyard is located within Coteaux du Layon Faye de Anjou. The Chenin Blanc here is grown on volcanic rhuloite rock and differs dramatically from the limestone-dominant Saumur vineyards. The winemaking decisions here are quite different, as well. Malolactic fermentation is uninterrupted, zero sulphur is used, and the wines age for a rather short period of time in neutral oak barrels, before going into tank and then bottle.
Les Aussignouins has a broad texture, giving rich golden orchard fruits, and a distinct honeyed quality. What impressed so much at our visit was how perfectly balanced this wine was. It had the purity and laser-like focus of the Saumur wines, but with wild exotic fruit notes and concentrated savory spices on the ultra-long finish. I must have revisited this wine three more times when I was traveling in France and each time was more blown away. Of all the wines of Vins Hodgson this is the one we knew we had to go deep on.